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Jere Johnston"The latest books about how people learn math and science show that the entire process is one of discovery. We can help people learn, but we can't tell them. Education becomes providing opportunities for discovery. Technology has the potential to guide learners, but we have to have good teachers to go with it."

A researcher who studies technology as a medium for teaching and learning, Gere Johnston supports teachers of adult learners through Project IDEAL. Working together, Project IDEAL member states share training materials, tools and practices for strengthening learning at a distance. Share his ideas on technology's use to enrich professional development and empower the learner.

Name: Ben Delfs
Address: American Field Service
Woodcliff Lake, NJ
Question: Hi,

My name's Ben. I'm 16. I am very interested in the effects of new technologies, like the Internet and TV, on learning and cultural literacy, as well as on other things like on skills and cultures in general. So I am very interested by your overview on the literacy link website. My high school, that I have been out of for a year, has in my absence adopted an interesting policy of giving a laptop to each student and informalizing and digitalizing the learning process in this way.

You said, "Education becomes providing opportunities for discovery."

But, I believe that technology has, in the first world, provided such boundless opportunity to learn that information itself is no longer something that has to be sought as an inspired human. I believe that information in such an unlimited and digitized form has literally superficialized the knowledge that it presents.

You have also discovered that "learning is not synonymous with memorization but rather occurs when an individual creates his or her own understanding of the meaning of information."

I have come to believe that the Internet, and to a much less extent television, have badly affected learning and understanding in the light of this. There is information, and then it is made real in the mind by the imagery that goes with it, be it the image of letters in a word or colors in a shrine. This becomes depth, and we become intellectual in meaningful conceptualization and then manipulation of these varyingly deep symbolic images.

I think that when a fact is on the Internet as opposed to a book, on a screen from some worldwide, impersonal electronic entity as opposed to visibly authentic paper words, it loses its symbolic depth. And this is very bad, I think, for understanding, which is essentially in depth. I would very much like to know what you think of my thoughts.

Also, I think on the internet and maybe TV, such symbolic knowledge is transformed, eventually, once an individual gets used to such wealth, into bits of information to be responded to, not bits of information to be given to "his or her own understanding of the meaning of information". With a book or listening interactively to another human being, I think it is more possible for an individual to have his or her own grasp of information in the free mind that is his or her own.

As it is when individuals get used to wealth, then they do not as much appreciate it, I fear it is so with information. 'Everything in moderation' is my favorite philosophical quote, and it is from the ancient times, which did not have the Internet. But those pioneers of the Western world, in their acquisition of any entity of information, be it the Internet or the elders of Athens, cherished information. They had limits in information, an anchored place in the psyche, from which they meaningfully grasped, as learning individuals, the depth of information. Limitlessness is good on the short term, but I fear it is having terrible repercussions for civilizations in the modern world.

I sincerely hope that you appreciate my thoughts, and that you can respond to them.

Thank you.
Ben Delfs

Answer: Dear Ben,
The effect of the proliferation of information on people's knowledge is a very important issue in education. While people today have access to much more information than they did just 10 years ago, it doesn't necessarily mean they have more knowledge. In fact, one of the important skills a person needs to develop in today's world is how to sift through all the information and select and organize those few pieces of information that solve a problem. With the every-increasing amounts of information people sometimes just turn off to it, and don't even try to make sense of it.

This might be a good topic for you to pursue in college. In the meantime, I recommend a book that -- while it was written 30 years ago -- provides some very good ideas about how individuals are affected by increasing amounts of information in their lives: Media and symbols: the forms of expression, communication, and education, edited by David R. Olson and published by the University of Chicago Press in 1974.

Good luck!

Name: Robert Curtis
Address: Buffalo Public Schools
Buffalo, NY
Question: Please comment on how Project IDEAL can help our students and NRS results? Thank you!
Answer: Robert:
Project IDEAL provide states with assistance setting up effective distance learning programs for adult learners. The state in turn works with organizations such as yours, passing on some of the ideas we have. You might check with your local BOCES or with the NY State Dept of Education in Albany to see what supports are available for Buffalo Public Schools.

You didn't indicate much about the level of student you are working with--ESL, ABE, or ASE; and you don't say whether your interest is in classroom-based education or distance education. I would make different recommendations for each level. I do know that there are programs in NY that have a good record in terms of raising TABE test scores or helping learners get their GED by using programs such as Math Basics, GED Connection, and GRASP. But these are all simply curricula. To be effective, each needs a good teacher to work with students to make sure they understand and master the material. Attention needs to be given to helping adult learners study the materials for a long enough period of time that they will acquire enough new knowledge to show gains on the TABE or similar test being used to measure progress.


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